After having endured two years of pandemic restrictions and finally getting accustomed to working from home (which of course, has its own set of challenges), transitioning back to the office may be harder than anticipated.
This study by McKinsey reveals that as many as one in three employees who’ve returned to the office experience negative impacts on their mental health.
“Connecting over Zoom is very different from connecting in person, and two years into the pandemic, we are all a bit rusty when it comes to our social skills,” Naomi Torres-Mackie, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist at Lenox Hill Hospital and head of research at the Mental Health Coalition told Healthline.
On top of that, many are still managing the lingering fear and anxiety of getting sick.
If you can relate to feelings of stress triggered by re-entering a conventional working environment or adjusting to a hybrid office, here are eight health-expert approved tips to help you transition.
Accept your anxiety
Instead of resisting, denying, or judging your feelings of anxiety, Torres-Mackie suggests accepting them, which can help you process them.
“If you can accept that you’re having difficult feelings and normalize them for yourself—many people are finding it stressful to go back into the office—then you’ll likely find that the difficult feelings start decreasing in intensity and frequency,” she says.
Natalie Christine Dattilo, Ph.D., clinical health psychologist, backs this advice up. When people experience anxiety, it’s common for them to assume that there is something wrong with them.
Instead of entertaining thoughts like: “why do others seem to be doing okay?” Or “what’s wrong with me?” Dattilo suggests other statements such as:
- I wish this were easier, but for now, it’s still a struggle and I’m getting better every day.
- There’s nothing wrong with me, it’s normal to struggle during these not-normal times.
- Although it may appear others are doing better than I am, I don’t know that for sure.
- Honestly, everyone is just doing the best they can, including me.
Gradually expose yourself to in-office work
If your employer offers employees a choice with how much they work in the office, consider starting slowly, with just a few days in the office per week. Then, you can add more days gradually as you adjust.
Establish a routine
Consistency is key when trying to make a change. Natasha Bowman, JD, and founder of the Bowman Foundation of Workplace Equity and Mental Wellness recommends deciding which days and hours you’ll be in the office ahead of time and planning your work around that schedule.
“Having a set routine can help reduce stress and make the transition back to the office easier,” she adds.
Create a task list
Every morning or evening, decide on a list of tasks that need to get done.
“Staying organized and on top of things will help mitigate feelings of stress and overwhelm during this adjustment period. This will also help you prioritize your time and effort as you recalibrate,” says Dattilo.
Give yourself time to readjust
Even though you may have been accustomed to working in the office before the pandemic, don’t expect that getting back into it will happen overnight. Readjusting to things like commuting, in-office distractions, and being near others will take time.
“It makes sense that a part of us will feel hesitant to do the things we’ve been told for over two years are ‘unsafe,” explains Dattilo. It’s only natural for you to have to keep reassuring your body and brain that these circumstances are safe.
Practice stress-relieving activities
To counter feelings of stress, it’s important to prioritize activities that you find relaxing and enjoyable. By scheduling stress-relieving activities both at the start and end of your workday, you will be better able to manage stress and anxiety and improve your focus.
Bowman suggests scheduling little breaks throughout the day, too.
Sometimes, returning to the office can be made even more stressful by the behavior of certain coworkers and/or employers.
To nip this issue in the bud, Bowman’s advice is to inform the offending person that they’ve crossed your boundaries.
“If that person is your manager, then report them to HR. Have zero-tolerance for workplace misconduct from anyone,” Bowman adds.
Seek professional help
If you notice that your stress and anxiety are not fading away with time, try to unburden yourself by talking to a trusted friend or family member.
If the feelings persist or get worse, “please don’t hesitate to seek support or speak with your doctor,” says Dattilo. “Other scientifically supported self-care practices to help mitigate the effects of anxiety include regular effortful exercise, natural sleep, social connection, gratitude practice, laughter or play, and mediation for relaxation or focus.”